Wal-Mart, Xerox blame each other for Louisiana shopping gone wild

Reuters

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Xerox Corp blamed each other on Monday afterLouisiana food stamp recipients stripped bare the shelves ofsome Walmart stores when a computer glitch left their debitcards with no limits.

Managers of Walmart stores in the small, north Louisianatowns of Springhill and Mansfield alerted police on Saturdaynight that throngs of shoppers had flooded into the stores andwere buying groceries using electronic benefit cards thatcontained no credit limits.

EBT cards are debit-type cards issued under the state's foodstamp program and coded to show the amount of money availablefor individuals to spend. Food stamps are a federal governmentsubsidy program for low-income people that is administered bythe states.

When word got out Saturday that the EBT cards were showingno limits, card holders rushed to area Walmarts to takeadvantage.

"Some people had eight or 10 shopping carts full ofgroceries," Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd said on Monday.

Xerox said on Saturday that its systems that process EBTtransactions suffered an outage stemming from routine testing ofbackup generators that malfunctioned. Louisiana was one of 17states affected by the outage.

Kayla Whiting, a spokeswoman at Wal-Mart's Bentonville,Arkansas, headquarters, pointed to Xerox as the source of theproblem and referred further questions to Xerox.

Xerox corporate spokesman Bill McKee provided a writtencompany statement saying that Xerox has a "documented processfor retailers like Wal-Mart to follow in response to EBToutages."

But the statement left unclear who would cover theunauthorized spending, and it referred further questions toWalmart.

Louisiana officials said they had no intention of being leftholding the bag. "The outage was the result of failures by ourcontractor, Xerox," said Trey Williams, a spokesman for theLouisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

He said emergency procedures in place with Xerox allowretailers to call a phone number and receive authorization forpurchases any time the EBT system is down. "Some retailers chosenot to follow the process," he said. "Those businesses are onlybeing reimbursed for the (maximum) amounts on individual cards,"he said.

Williams said that amounts transacted above the cards'available balances were returned to Wal-Mart marked "asinsufficient funds."

He could not provide an estimate of the total amount ofoverspending or say who will cover it in the end. "That's aconversation between Xerox and the retailer," he said.

CARTS FULL OF GROCERIES

Springhill's Lynd arrived at his town's Walmart store atabout 7 p.m. local time and found a few hundred shoppers jammingcheckout lines with carts filled to overflowing.

Lynd said he told the manager that the store had a right torefuse service, but the manager said she had contacted Wal-Martheadquarters and was told to accept the cards.

The shoppers "decimated the grocery section of Walmart,"Lynd said.

The shoppers broke no laws, Lynd said, adding that policeintervention was not required to disperse the crowd. At about 9p.m., Walmart said that the glitch had been fixed and the EBTcards were again showing appropriate spending limits.

"When they heard the announcement, people just left theircarts in place and walked out of the store," Lynd said.

Mansfield Assistant Police Chief Gary Hobbs reported asimilar scene in his community. He said that several othergrocery stores in the area temporarily stopped accepting EBTcards when they became aware of the glitch, but Walmartcontinued.

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